A Florida writer’s obsession with rehabilitating the reputation of an all-but-forgotten
North Carolina fiddler who wrote one of the most famous songs in popular music history
has yielded results. Randy Noles, author of Fiddler’s Curse: The Untold Story of
Ervin T. Rouse, Chubby Wise, Johnny Cash and The Orange Blossom Special (Centerstream Publishing, 2007),
spent years researching the twisted tale behind the song “Orange Blossom Special”
and the tragic characters most associated with its authorship.
The resulting book, Fiddler’s Curse, settles a long-simmering authorship
dispute—Noles contends Rouse is the sole composer, despite a widespread belief
that bluegrass great Russell “Chubby” Wise was the uncredited author or co-author—and has
earned for the luckless Rouse, who died in 1981, a measure of recognition that
he never achieved in life.
First, the State of North Carolina has just announced that it plans to install a historical
marker in Buzzard’s Corner, a Craven County community just east of Fort Barnwell and
west of Perfection, where Rouse was born in 1917. The marker, located at the
corner of N.C. 55 and Wintergreen Road, will read: "Ervin T. Rouse 1917-1981. Fiddler
and Songwriter. Penned widely-recorded “Orange Blossom Special,” bluegrass
“We’re really proud of this,” said Harold Blizzard, Craven County manager. “It’s one
of only five markers in North Carolina related to music. It’s not every day you get
to recognize a native son like this.”
Second, Rouse and his famous song were the subject of a documentary film
called “Orange Blossom Special: The Story of An American Anthem.” The film,
produced by Boston-based Northern Light Productions, has aired on roughly 30 PBS
stations around the country and has shown at an array of film festivals.
But none of this would have happened if Noles, a publisher of city/regional magazines,
hadn’t become curious about the song’s origins and started making inquiries.
“I found out that truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction,” Noles said. “The life
of Ervin Rouse was tragic but strangely uplifting. Clearly, he had faded into
obscurity despite his accomplishment, and his story needed to be told.”
So, Noles, an award-winning journalist, started tracking down Rouse family members and
associates and researching his connections to Wise and to Johnny Cash, the superstar
who made “Orange Blossom Special” a hit and quietly took care of the ailing
fiddler as he sunk deeper into alcoholism and mental illness. In fact, Rouse spent
his final years fiddling for tips in isolated taverns at the edge of the
Florida Everglades, where he lived in a plywood shack and was considered by his friends
to be destitute.
“It’s thrilling to see your work result in rehabilitation and recognition for someone
who seemed destined to be forgotten,” said Noles. “This story is an important part
of Americana and I was privileged to be able to tell it.”
What the critics about “Fiddler’s Curse:
“A delightful, engaging, well-written, thoroughly researched journey down the Seaboard Line with a great song and its creators…;a great book…would that we had many more like it in our field.”
—Ronnie Pugh, Historian and Author: Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour
“A mix of history and detective work steeped in Florida lore.”
—The Orlando Sentinel
“A lively book…offers a fascinating glimpse into the country music scene during the Great Depression and the early days of bluegrass.
“Meticulously researched…clearly a labor of love…Noles has a special feel for the story’s cornpone characters.”
“Extensively researched, wonderfully written…a rollicking romp of a story that comes complete with its own soundtrack…filled with Noles’ obvious love for the material.
—Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel